Most of my favorite artists were and are outlaws, people who weren't afraid of boundaries or of stepping over them. Sadly, because of political correctness, much of this has been lost. I'm not talking about artists who set out to be offensive or shocking just for the hell of it. I'm talking about music that doesn't mind stepping on toes to prove a larger point or to break a taboo without fear of backlash. I'm referring to music that came from the artist's heart and not society's rulebook.
The biggest problem with today's society is the fear of the First Amendment and, as I noted, that attitude has slowly permeated into music. There was a time when Phil Ochs was unafraid to stand alone on stage with his guitar and tell the President to "find another country to be part of." There was a time when Dylan would write a line directed at the nation's leaders saying "I hope that you die and your death will come soon" and told them that "even Jesus would never forgive what you do." Just to make sure I'm not seen solely as a leftist writer, there was also a time when the Hag could politely tell the hippies "if you don't love it, leave it."
Now the Dixie Chicks are political icons, rebels, and the subject of a (great) documentary film. However, if they were around in 1967 and Natalie Maines had said exactly what she did on stage in 2003 (including the Texas part), not a single member of the audience would have blinked an eye. It would have been quite tame, in fact. But in today's watered-down politically correct society any diversion from the official story is seen as treasonous by one side and you get radio stations sponsoring CD burnings, while the other side makes you out to be a hero.
From that point on, every major artist who spoke out on Bush or the War in Iraq was told by the media and the right to shut up and sing (one prominent artist went as far as to call the participants in the 2004 Vote for Change Tour "treasonous morons") while the left would point out the First Amendment.
Now that the left is in control they have become everything they hated about the eight years of Bush. I mean that in more ways than one, but given the purpose of this site, I'll keep it about music as much as possible.
Which brings me to Moe Tucker and the treatment she has received from various blogs. Ms. Tucker was, as you should know, the drummer for the Velvet Underground and this week it came to light that she is also a supporter of the Tea Party.
As some of you know, Ms. Tucker and I probably don't see eye-to-eye politically. I believe that the Tea Party has some great goals, some bad ones, and they place entirely too much blame on one man, when the fact is that both sides have screwed over the American people for decades and will continue to do so until we rise up and fix it ourselves. But I'm not going to attack Ms. Tucker the way others have today; she is entitled to her own views just as you and I are and as music fans our hope should be that she can turn those views into a song as great as "Okie from Muskogee."
But the much larger point is that today's politically correct society has made the possibility of her (or a liberal artist, for that matter) creating a great protest song very slim. Which brings me to another recent story.
It is outrageous that Roger Waters has chosen to use the juxtaposition of a Jewish Star of David with the symbol of dollar signs. While he insists that his intent was to criticize Israel's West Bank security fence, the use of such imagery in a concert setting seems to leave the message open to interpretation, and the meaning could easily be misunderstood as a comment about Jews and money.
Of course Waters has every right to express his political views about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through his music and stagecraft. However, the images he has chosen, when put together in the same sequence, cross a line into anti-Semitism.
We wish that Waters had chosen some other way to convey his political views without playing into and dredging up the worst age-old anti-Semitic stereotype about Jews and their supposed obsession with making money.- Abraham H. Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League
Here is Roger Waters' response:
It's a screen that they hide behind. I don't think they should be taken seriously on that. You can attack Israeli policy without being anti-Jewish.
It's like saying if you criticise the US policy you are being anti-Christian. I'm critical of the Israeli policy of occupying Palestinian land and their policy of building settlements, which is entirely illegal under international law, and also of ghettoising the people whose land they are building on.
It's that foreign policy I'm against. It's nothing to do with the religion.
Mr. Foxman obviously has no understanding of art, but his attempt to regulate free speech is, well, just another brick in the wall we are building around our society. A wall intended to keep ourselves safe from all forms of hate, but what it's really doing is making discussion of these very real problems taboo, and thus unresolvable (and, for the record, I disagree with Roger Waters to a certain extent).
In this society, we can't let the kids hear something which may make them think or question the official story the media wants to portray. We can't make them think past the literal meanings and discover layers of depth and feeling, which is why we get songs like "Drop the World" instead of "In the Flesh." The former talks about Lil Wayne's intention to "pick the world up and drop it on your fuckin' head." The latter, like the rest of the album, displays great lyrical subtlety about war, the way we raise our children, our school systems in the modern age, and also happens to contain this line that very few (10 or less) of today's entertainers would have the guts to even consider singing.
"Are there any queers in the theater tonight?," the verse begins, "Get them up against the wall/There's one in the spotlight, he don't look right to me/Get him up against the wall/That one looks Jewish/And that one's a coon/Who let all of this riffraff into the room?/There's one smoking a joint/And another with spots/If I had my way, I'd have all of you shot."
Obviously if Waters were serious and not cleverly using his lyrics to make a point about society's perception of hate, the ADL would have something to bitch about, but as it stands now they are simply ignoring the subtext of the album and focusing on the literal meaning. I would love to hear modern pop culture's interpretation of Mark Twain's great short story "The War Prayer" or numerous other pieces of art that require actual rational thought.
Have we really became this damn stupid?
In honor of a society with no balls, I offer this playlist of songs that wouldn't go over today. Feel free to add to the list.
Elvis Presley- "Hard-Headed Woman"
John Lennon- "Woman is the Nigger of the World"
Pink Floyd- apparently anything
Uncle Dave Macon- entire discography
Emmett Miller- entire discography
Son House- "My Black Mama"
Bob Dylan- "Masters of War"
CCR-- "Fortunate Son"
The Band- "The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down"
Phil Ochs- anything
The Velvet Underground- "Heroin"
J.J. Cale/Eric Clapton- "Cocaine"
Warren Smith- "Ubangi Stomp"
Donovan- "Universal Soldier"
The Rolling Stones- "Brown Sugar"
Merle Haggard- "The Fightin' Side of Me"
Patti Smith- "Rock 'n Roll Nigger"
Chuck Berry- "Sweet Little Sixteen"
Black Sabbath- "War Pigs"
Waylon Jennings- "Ain't No God in Mexico"
The Rolling Stones- "Brown Sugar"
Lou Reed- "Walk on the Wild Side"
Neil Young- "Southern Man"
Lynyrd Skynyrd- "Sweet Home Alabama"
Alice Cooper- literally anything, but especially the one about blowing up the school
The Ramones- "Beat on the Brat"
Guns n' Roses- "Welcome to the Jungle"
The Doors- "WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)"
James Brown- "It's a Man's Man's Man's World" and "Say It Loud- I'm Black and Proud"
Patsy Cline- "Crazy" (retitled "Mentally Disturbed")
Public Enemy- "Fight the Power"